ROYAL AIRCRAFT FACTORY

Her Majesty’s Balloon Factory was formed 1892 at Aldershot, moving 1905 to South Farnborough, where in 1910 Superintendent Mervyn O'Gorman made plans for future work on aeroplanes. Though known as 'The Factory' it had neither authority nor funds to construct any kind of aircraft, not even balloons, but O'Gorman laid down 6 types of aircraft (later published in Reports & Memoranda 59 in November 1911): BE, Blériot Experimental, meaning tractor aeroplane; BS, Blériot Scout, fast tractor single-seater; FE, Farman Experimental, pusher type; RE, Reconnaissance Experimental, 2-seat tractor; SE, Santos Experimental, tail-first or canard, but soon changed to Scout Experimental, replacing BS; and TE, Tatin Experimental, propeller behind tail. First aeroplane at Balloon Factory was Geoffrey de Havilland's No. 2, which he brought on his appointment December 1910 as Factory test pilot and designer (in theory he should have refrained from designing). This aircraft made acceptance test flight of 1 hr 14 January 1911, whereupon it was purchased and designated FE.1. Meanwhile, a crashed Blériot known as 'the Mankiller' was brought in for repair December 1910, emerging late January as completely rebuilt SE.1 canard (crashed 18 August 1911, killing Assistant Superintendent Lt. T. Ridge). On 1 April 1911 establishment renamed Army Aircraft Factory, and on 1 April 1912 prefix Royal added. On 11 April 1911 Factory received pusher Voisin donated to War Office by Duke of Westminster. It was totally rebuilt (only 60-hp Wolseley engine remained) into 2-seat tractor biplane BE.1 (1 January 1912). While BE.1 was being created de Havilland produced FE.2 (18 August 1911), and while this led to more than 2,300 FE.2a/b/d 2-seat pusher fighters, BE.1 led to more than 3,200 BE.2a/b/c/d/e 2-seat reconnaissance aircraft. Original BE.2 had not been allowed to compete in 1912 Military Aircraft trials (because Factory not supposed to build aircraft) but design was so obviously superior to winning Cody pusher that it became standard RFC type, built by 22 companies and soon equipping RFC Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 21 Sqns. Subsequently developed into BE.8 and 12. E.T. Busk played part in applying theory of inherent stability in design of RE.1 (about May 1913) 2-seat reconnaissance biplane. From this came RE.5, of which Factory itself made 24 in 1914, followed by RE.7 (about 250) and RE.8 (4,077). Last major design began with BS.1, world's first high-speed single-seat scout (3 July 1912). This led via BS.2 (SE.2) to SE.4 (about August 1914), designed by Harry Folland to be world's fastest aeroplane and reached 135 mph. Next came SE.4a, after which Folland, assisted by John Kenworthy and Major Frank Goodden, designed fighter to be powered by new Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine. Result was 5,205 SE.5 and 5a fighters, plus others by Curtiss and Eberhart in USA. Factory produced many prototypes, total coming to 533 aircraft of 28 types by 1919. By this time formation of Royal Air Force 1 April 1918 had led to Factory being renamed Royal Aircraft Establishment, devoted solely to research in support of manufacturing industry.

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